Emmi's Pen (10): At the heart of it

Emmi’s Pen is a blog, appearing on our website every two weeks. Dancer Emmi Pennanen will take you behind the scenes into the daily joys and struggles of a dancer, each time zooming in on a specific aspect of life at Ballet Vlaanderen.

At the heart of it

Last June, just before the summer holidays, we began the massive project of learning the ballet Spartacus by Yuri Grigorovich. Oxana Tsvetnitskaya and Ruslan Pronin, assistants of the famous Russian choreographer, arrived at our studios to teach the first steps of this nearly 3 hours long tour de force. Instantly we tumbled into another world of Russian language, videos of the Bolshoi ballet, fast tempos and extreme positions. While we have also been working on all our other repertoire, Oxana and Ruslan have been with us for one or two weeks at a time. Finally the process has culminated into an intensive last month of perfecting and pushing boundaries before the premiere next Friday.

Russia, where many of the big ballet classics like Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty where created, is known for its very strict Vaganova training. Through rigorous discipline all dancers are carved to look as one. The two leading companies, the Bolshoi ballet and the Mariinsky ballet each have over two hundred dancers, which places them amongst the largest companies in the world. Spartacus with its bombastic music by Aram Katsjatoerian, virtuosic solos and duets and high energy group dances, is one of the pearls of Yuri Grigorovich’s choreographic works. Stepping right into the heart of this iconic ballet tradition with a piece, that until last year had never been performed by a European company, has been an exciting and slightly intimidating challenge.

Starting from the very first rehearsal there has been Spartan order in the studio. No mistake goes unnoticed. Especially in the beginning we would stop and restart as many times as it took to get it right. Considering that every dance of this ballet is extremely physical, while sweat was certainly flowing, tears where sometimes only barely held back.

This ballet carries a large spectrum of dynamics and tasks. One dance offers the pursuit for ultimate precision; all fingers of twelve women held exactly the same way at the same height, every step equally long, every angle, every pose, all as one. Another is full of explosive movement, so fast that you would think the floor was hot lava. Yet, the upper body should stay free, the arms relaxed while being wildly thrown around. Especially the men get to really act out all their force and character. They run and jump, lift their swords, kick their legs high, create a whirlwind of power and energy. For the principals, dancing this ballet is the equivalent of completing a marathon of hurdles. They carry the story, its heartbreaking drama, while tackling one challenging trick after another. Always with the same finesse and control, seemingly without effort.

While exhausting, this level of high demand, that marks our whole season, is extremely satisfying. Leaving work each day knowing that we gave our all, does instill a sense of pride and confidence. Our very versatile repertoire is highly exclusive and unique to our company. As any dancer in a group, we never get to choose the performances we do. Each year the season’s plan gets presented to us and we are part of it automatically. We are lucky. Having the chance to dive headfirst into these world renowned productions, guided by their best experts, is an absolute privilege. Every process deepens our artistry and enables us to share our passion more freely.

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